BEIRUT: The relatives of nine Lebanese hostages being held in Syria by rebels protested Wednesday outside the Turkish Airlines office in Downtown Beirut and placed a wax seal on the company’s door to prevent employees from reaching their offices.
“The families aim to disrupt the work of the airlines for the day and convey a message to the Turkish state that it should help resolve their case,” Sheikh Abbas Zogheib, delegated by the Higher Shiite Council to follow up on the case of the Lebanese hostages, told The Daily Star.
The relatives sealed the main door of the airline’s office with red wax and left a paper at the door with their signature on it.
“This Turkish firm has been closed with red wax – [signed] by the relatives of the hostages,” read the note on the office door.
Last week relatives of the nine hostages, who were among 11 to be kidnapped in the Syrian district of Aleppo by rebels in May, held a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Beirut and threatened to target Turkish interests in Lebanon in a bid to press Ankara to help secure the release of their loved ones.
Two of the eleven hostages were freed successively in August and September following a call by the Committee of Muslim Scholars to release the pilgrims.
Zogheib said the step taken Wednesday was a peaceful form of demonstration and said the relatives would avoid any confrontation with employees at the offices of the Turkish carrier.
“It’s just a way for the [relatives] to get their voices heard,” said Zogheib, warning that similar protests would take place until the hostages are released.
Last week’s protest outside the Turkish mission prompted Ankara to issue an advisory against travel to Lebanon.
The Turkish contingent of the United Interim Forces in Lebanon also beefed up security measures around its headquarters in south Lebanon last week, placing more surveillance cameras and barriers outside the mission’s headquarters, a security source told The Daily Star.
Adham Zogheib, a spokesperson of the families, told Al-Jadeed television station that the families had already organized a protest outside the headquarters of Turkey’s UNIFIL contingent.
“We are not likely to go there again,” he said, vowing that the families would try to disrupt other Turkish interests in the country until there are freed.
Relatives argue that the Turkish state has the ability to help resolve their case and secure the release of the nine remaining captives.
“We will, in a peaceful manner, put pressure on Turkish interests in Lebanon but we won’t do anything to harm the interests of the Lebanese state,” said Zogheib.
He said the relatives did not give any advance warning of their protest Wednesday in order to avoid any potential clashes with authorities.
According to the spokesperson, the families are also readying a campaign to boycott all kinds of Turkish goods in Lebanon.
“The next step will be even more peaceful,” said Zogheib. “We will call on all the Lebanese to a gathering at Martyrs’ Square and call for the boycotting of Turkish goods in Lebanon,” he added.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Wednesday that the families had the right to protest so long as the demonstrations are peaceful.
He also expressed hope that the demonstrations would not hamper official efforts by Lebanon to secure the release of the pilgrims.
“God help the families ... I don't blame them but only on condition that they don't obstruct the efforts we are exerting in the case,” said Charbel.
He added that the security forces were negotiating with the relatives to grant employees access to the Beirut offices.
Charbel also expressed hope Ankara would step up efforts to ensure the hostages are released.
“We hope that Turkey will understand the position of the families and continue to help us,” the minister, who spoke to the Voice of Lebanon radio station, said.